Water-safety officials are urging residents not to let the back-to-school season distract them from watching children around water.
Many parents shift their focus from water safety to back-to-school in August, but it is still important to be vigilant supervising children and ensuring there are proper barriers between them and water, Buckeye Fire Chief Bob Costello said.
“I don’t want people to be complacent,” he said. “I know people are busy right now. It’s the first week of school in a lot of areas around here and that’s where everybody’s mind-set is, but those pools are still there and we just cannot forget about the kids around the water.”
Tanja Tanner, Goodyear Fire Department community-education coordinator, and Lori Schmidt, president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, echoed the sentiment.
Schmidt said children and adults likely will continue swimming in backyard pools until October, so “we need to make sure that we’re paying attention to water safety,” supervising children around water, have barriers like pool fences, secure doggie doors and locked gates in place, and “that we’re being as safe as possible.”
The push is part of Drowning Impact Awareness Month this month, which promotes continued water safety during back-to-school and emphasizes the “ripple effect” a water-related incident can have on a community.
An incident affects not only the child’s family but also neighbors, first responders and doctors, plus schools and churches the child may attend, Schmidt said. Often an incident causes people to re-evaluate and improve their own water-safety practices.
“When a drowning happens, it affects everyone,” she said. “It’s not just that family who’s going to have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives. It’s making an impact for the good or the bad for all of these other people as well.”
There have been six water-related incidents in the Southwest Valley this year, according to coalition statistics. Of those, five were children. None was fatal.
In Litchfield Park, which does not report numbers to the coalition, a 66-year-old woman drowned in her backyard pool May 24. A 58-year-old Goodyear woman, who has not been identified, was pulled from her backyard pool May 8 and taken to the hospital in critical condition. Authorities could not say Wednesday whether she survived.
The biggest issues officials have encountered this year have been adults and teenagers swimming alone or while impaired, lapses in adult supervision and no barriers to keep children away from the water.
Schmidt said adults need to take responsibility for children and themselves.
“Put barriers in place so that when we do have those lapses of supervision that we have something that can slow that child down at the very least before they can get into the water and we find them there,” she said. “And (adults need) to be paying more attention. We’ve got to understand that we’re never old enough to swim by ourselves.”
The Wigwam Resort and Spa in Litchfield Park hosted a free swim day Aug. 4 for 25 Phoenix children from the Salvation Army to teach them about water safety.
The children, whose ages ranged from 7 to 14, toured a Goodyear firetruck and were provided a free lunch. Then Schmidt read them a book, “Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim,” to teach them water-safety rules, and then they were allowed to swim.
Later, people dressed as Santa and his elves surprised the children and handed out backpacks full of school supplies, each valued at about $55. The children were “extremely excited” at the surprise visit and gifts and enjoyed the day, said Casey Hagarty, a spokeswoman for the Wigwam.
This is the second year the resort has hosted a Santa swim day for Salvation Army children.
Water-safety officials said it is important children know how to swim and be safe around water.
The Buckeye Aquatic Center focused on promoting water safety this summer by boosting swim lessons and lifeguard certifications, and offering multiple free swim days.
About 20 lifeguards were certified, 168 children swam on the town’s swim teams, and 1,009 people participated in swim lessons, up from about 480 last summer, Recreation Supervisor Miranda Gomez said.